Becoming a Counselor in New Mexico
You’ll need to a master's degree and a state license to be a school counselor or a Professional Clinical Mental Health Counselor in New Mexico. Some master's level rehabilitation counselors have licensing through the Department of Education as well.
It’s true that you can be licensed as a substance abuse counselor with as little as an associate's degree; however, higher levels of education will decrease the length of supervised practice. And if you plan your education in advance, you may qualify for dual credentialing in multiple counseling disciplines -- this can greatly increase your employment options.
If you are a High School Student or Graduate in New Mexico
If you are planning on pursuing counseling at the master's level, there is no one undergraduate major that is preferred. However, do plan on taking some social science classes. Schools like New Mexico State University like to see that you have some counseling related courses on your transcript, either as an upperclassman or a beginning graduate student. Learn more your undergrad counseling program options here.
A bachelor's degree in Psychology is common preparation for graduate school in the field of counseling.
You won't need as high a GPA as you would for medical school, but grades will be a factor. Schools may set a minimum of 2.8 or even 3.0. There are typically far more applicants than there are slots. If your academics aren't stellar, you'll want to distinguish yourself in other ways.
Real world experience can strengthen your graduate school application. Some volunteer options you might consider are the Agora Crisis Center, Harmony Home Health and Hospice, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and the Martinez Tutoring Program.
If you currently hold a 4-year Bachelor's Degree:
Allow plenty of time to fulfill admission requirements. You generally need three letters of reference. You may be required to take the GRE. Also be prepared for interviews and writing assessments.
Enroll in a program that will meet your career goals. As a prospective clinical counselor, you have the option of enrolling in either a counseling program or a program in a closely related field. If you opt for a related field like art therapy or psychology, you will need to demonstrate that you’ve had all coursework required by the Board. Requirements include core counseling courses and specialized clinical studies. (New Mexico art therapists have a separate licensing process, but again, you may want more than one credential.) As a prospective school counselor, you should enroll in a program at a regionally accredited institution. Programmatic accreditation through CACREP is optional, though there can be advantages; one is that you have the option of becoming a nationally certified professional counselor. A CACREP-accredited school counseling program will be at least 48 semester hours.
It is possible to get dual licensing in mental health counseling and school counseling. Your program will be at least 60 semester hours.
You may have the opportunity to join a professional organization like the Counseling Masters Students Association, the New Mexico Counseling Association, or Iota Chi Sigma. These are not tied to licensure, but give you the opportunity to network as well as participate in service activities.
You will need to pass licensing examinations. Requirements will depend on your area of specialization.
Licensure as a clinical counselor requires a period of supervised experience. You will need to accrue 3,000 clinical contact hours under conditions acceptable to the Board. Your clinical supervisor will need to verify that you’ve met acceptable practice standards.
You will be licensed at this stage, though at a lower level. Licensed Mental Health Counselor is a transitional license for art therapists or mental health counselors who are fulfilling supervision requirements.